A new year brings new state laws. Tennessee and Virginia have made changes in laws affecting public health and safety of which residents should be aware.
According to TobaccoFreeKids.org, smoking kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined, and thousands more die from other tobacco-related causes such as fires caused by smoking and smokeless tobacco use. But even as decades of anti-tobacco efforts have reduced its use, more than 22% of Tennessee high school students now use e-cigarettes, in part because only Tennessee and three other states do not regulate indoor vaping at all, something the next General Assembly should address.
But progress was made last year, and effective Jan. 1 the age to purchase, possess, transport, smoke or consume any tobacco, hemp or vapor products including cartridges was raised from 18 to 21 in Tennessee. The new law puts the state in line with federal law and ensures the state will receive $32 million in federal block grant funding.
It is also unlawful for someone under 21 to possess tobacco or vaping products or to accept them from any person. If found with these products, someone under 21 can be fined. The new law also allows local governments to prohibit smoking on playgrounds with a two-thirds vote. A “playground” includes an indoor or outdoor facility that is intended for recreation of children.
Local governments should waste no time putting such ordinances into effect.
In Virginia, it has been illegal to talk or text on a cell phone or other personal communication device while driving. But now the mere act of holding a cell phone while driving can get you a ticket — an expensive one. A first-time violation of this new law is a $150 fine. If caught again it’ll cost you $250.
Why so much? Because distracted driving takes nearly 40,000 lives annually, says EndDD.org. People are as impaired when they drive and talk on a cell phone as they are when they drive intoxicated at the legal blood-alcohol limit of 0.08 percent. And cell phone users are 5.36 times more likely to get into an accident than undistracted drivers, says a University of Utah study.
Kudos to a local government that has set the standard for protecting dogs from backyard abuse.
Effective Jan. 1, no dog may be tethered or chained and left unattended in the limits of Johnson City. A dog or puppy may only be tethered to a fixed object if the animal is under observation of its owner. No puppy under the age of 6 months can be placed on a trolley or pulley system or tethered. And a fence or pen for dogs must be a minimum of 100 square feet of space, per dog.
Other local governments should follow Johnson City’s lead.